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Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 35.

Sept. 2009: 147-174

Politicizing Cognition:
Antigone, Yogcra, and the Politics of Not One Less
Chaoyang Liao*
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
National Taiwan University, Taiwan

In recent critiques of ieks revolutionary politics, the ethical act as
exemplified by Antigone has figured as a typical example of the excessiveness
of ieks approach. ieks insistence on Antigones act of pure desire is
suspected either of privileging irrational blind faith or of indulging in passive
withdrawal from the domain of practice. Zhang Yimous film, Not One Less,
seems to follow the terms set up by such critiques. Minzhi, the protagonist,
displays unmitigated persistence in pursuing duties given to her as a substitute
teacher. On the other hand, the story also unfolds as a blatantly conformist
affirmation of the benevolence of post-Maoist state power. Minzhi, in so far as
she acts in her symbolic role, is both too uncritical of the paternal authority
behind her act and too powerless in the face of the flexibility of a system which
comfortably hides social inequality behind fortuitous good will. This study
argues, however, that a political reading of Not One Less should not stop at
such apparent conformism. Indeed, both the reading of blind obedience and
that of conformism assume direct causal connection between the ethical act and
social/political practice. In Not One Less, however, there is a gap of causal
uncertainty indicating that Minzhis act, though fully immersed in conformist
practice, does open up a degree of cognitive freedom within the very
uncertainty of causative agency. I will use the theory of three natures in
Yogcra thought to further examine how such uncertainty indicates the
presence of a cognitive ethics which points to a different kind of causality in
much the same way as the Lacanian/iekian act. Here effectivity is more
radical because less predictable.

Not One Less, Antigone, the political act, Yogcra, causality


Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

What analytic discourse dislodges puts truth
in its place, but does not shake it up. It is
reduced, but indispensable.
Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality 108
In all probability the situation is this: before
we transcend ourselves in love and enter into
the life and the often alien rhythm of another
human being, we experiment early on with
basic rhythms that proclaim themselves in
their simplest forms in these sorts of games
with inanimate objects. Or rather, these are
the rhythms in which we first gain possession
of ourselves.
Benjamin, Toys and Play 120
The knowledge of those who understand
others cittas [minds] is not like an object. /
And how is this? As in the case of a
knowledge of ones own citta.
Vasubandhu, Vimatik-Krik 21a
(Anacker 174)

Remembering the World

The psychoanalytic view of human reality may be described as one which
situates itself within the conscious subject and strives to move beyond its confines,
or rather to achieve some kind of communication with the beyond, or at least the
psychic representation or translation of the beyond. What is often forgotten is the
fact that although the novelty of the Freudian discovery, and Lacans return to its
fundamentals, is justifiably valued because of the knowledge to be gained from
discursive measurings and readings of the uncanny, the undecipherable, the
unknown, the psychoanalytic view has never departed from the clinical supposition
that what finally counts are the concrete persons (analyst and analysand) involved
in the analytic situation. On this view, every bit of new knowledge and new
performativity takes effect only when it can be returned to the finitude of the
humble subject of the everyday world, perhaps without the metaphysical
pretensions of the Cartesian cogito, but without the illusion, either, that the
distance between the material and the psychical can now safely be considered a

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

distortion of reality, as if we have arrived at a place from which everything must

now appear as merely immanent to the same field.1
The importance of this point is borne out in Dany Nobus discussion of
Lacans turn to topology as an alternative to structural linguistics when limitations
of the latter became apparent in terms of its usefulness as a theoretical reference
model. Nobus regrets that Lacan did not live long enough to effect a final turn, or
return, in his thought after his late admission that the abstract, structuralizing
metaphors of topology may have failed after all to explain everything. What would
have been realized in this final turn is the position that the interference of
common meaning cannot be simply dispensed with and that a new, perhaps nonstructuralist approach to language and speech is needed (64 f). Recently, Lorenzo
Chiesa also proposes that the usual complaints about the unreadability of Lacanian
exposition miss the point that Lacanian thinking is paradoxically systematic:
under the surface of systematicity and departing from the presentation of thought as
completed and closed, Lacan insists on recording the almost mechanical grinding of
the thinking process, the work-in-progress inevitably accompanied by questions,
doubts, and dead ends as well as rich possibilities of digressive rediscussion (4;
original emphasis). This idea of Lacan symptomatically enacting the object of
knowledge in his enunciative style highlights the fact that even when topology is in
principle adopted as the major reference model, and even when the discursive
context is removed from the clinical session to the seminar room, Lacan never
really did away with certain constraints set down by the psychoanalytic model as
understood by him: he was never too far away from the position that the practice of
theory cannot be divided from the subject of finitude, and thus has to be taken up as
necessarily embedded within the gaps and uncertainties entailed by embodied
procedures of language and speech.
On Lacans use of topology, Nobus concludes somewhat ambiguously that
although topology may have taken Lacan to the real heart of the psychoanalytic
experience, it also drove him away from its necessary means and principal power
(65). Here Nobus is referring to the structural instantiation of the unconscious in
non-spherical topology as the real heart of psychoanalytic experience, and to the
way such abstraction is actualized in speech and language as its necessary means

Admittedly, the distance in question is usually presented as metaphorically belonging to a

common space. Lacan, for example, distinguishes psychoanalytic practice from hypnosis by
pointing to the necessity, in analysis, to maintain the distance between the Iidentificationand
the a (Four Fundamental Concepts 273). The important point, however, is that such distance is
precisely what defines the cogito as positioned within finitude, necessarily dependent on some
other to have a minimal grasp of the whole.



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

and principal power. The qualified statement is understandable since there is no

simple way to distinguish the real heart of experience from its power to affect the
actual. All one can say is that the necessary part played by the latter has not
received sufficient attention in a structural approach modeled on mathematical
formalization. Due to the nature of psychoanalytic experience, it has never been a
question of the concrete situation being forgotten or refound, claimed or reclaimed,
but one of the need to modify distances, to reposition a specific mode of knowledge
within theoretical discourse.
The uniqueness of this paradoxical model of knowledge will not be
diminished but can hopefully be explicated by referring to a similar situation from
an entirely different culture and context. Chakravarti Ram-Prasad discusses two
types of religious thought, distinguishing them by observing how much authority is
attributed to the teacher who has achieved enlightenment. Most theistic religions
give priority to revelation (through sacred texts or human mediators) since the
direct appeal to higher powers is a good way to ward off epistemic vagaries
introduced by the human transmission of knowledge (147).2 Buddhism, on the
other hand, denies revelation by investing liberatory authority entirely in the insight
achieved by the enlightened person; such insight is in principle ineffable:
The authority of the Buddha consists in his having actually gone,
from being like other human beings, through to some state that gave
content to his teachings. His having undergone that transformation
and his activity in consequence together render his teachings
authoritative. . . . The difficulty lies in the nature of that state which
he attained and which his teachings are meant to take us to. For
something about what he underwent seems to block the very
possibility of his being able to teach about it. (148)
Enlightenment, in Buddhism, consists in the realization that the self is without
substance and that believing in the substance of the self is the cause of suffering,
but when enlightenment is based on the acts and experiences of a separate self and
is therefore personal, this very personal enlightenment would seem to be built on
the illusion that there is self-substance. This is the source of the drive to produce the
endless stream of doctrinal compilations, translations and exegeses in much of later
Buddhism: knowledge betrays its own formation within uncertainty if it is

The Mmms school of Hinduism is unusual in conceiving revelation as authorless, that

is, validated not by any theistic being but by the very structure of reality (Sam-Prasad 147).

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

positioned as revelation. Similarly, since one begins with the finitude of the person
rather than with revelation, whoever claims to have reached the beyond cannot
dwell there lest it become an enslaving, personal beyond, but instead has to
incessantly return to the unenlightened or pre-enlightened world, as if there is a
need to show that there is still minimal (sharable) revelation to be found within the
very confines of the finite self. The assumption is that when verbal guidance is
given and followed, it is indeed possible to find a way to approach this reduced,
extimate version of the beyond within the subject.
Ram-Prasads formulation points to the circularity between ineffability and
sharability which is a persistent issue in Buddhist soteriology. He specifically
associates this issue with the preoccupations of the Yogcra school, best known as
the school of Buddhism that has gone to great lengths in elaborating a Buddhist
psychology (148-51).3 Although a full comparative study of Yogcra philosophy
and psychoanalysis cannot be taken up here, we can point to at least some
superficial similarities between this soteriological dilemma and the epistemic
circularity pinpointed by Nobus discussion of the inadequacy of the topological
reference model and Chiesas explanation of Lacans expository style. In both cases,
there is a need to return to, or maintain connection with, the supposedly
uninteresting finitude of the world of everyday practice, a need to be lingering in
the world, of tarrying with the negative, after arriving at the beyond. Again, here I
have to limit myself to a few more concrete areas of discursive correspondence.
Specifically I will focus on certain affinities between political agency and
soteriological agency which may point to new articulatory possibilities. I will begin
with some recent debates on the political effectivity of psychoanalytic discourse
occasioned by Slavoj ieks attempt to unfold Lacanian theory into a revolutionary

iek, the Lacanian Act, and Partial Freedom

The idea of the ethical act figures prominently in ieks accounts of how
revolutionary politics is still possible in presumably post-revolutionary times.
Following Lacan, iek explains the act as activity that no longer remains mere
activity but introduces something alien and monstrous, to effect a traversing of
fantasy, a disturbing of the phantasmic background supporting the stabilized

For some other general accounts of the Yogcra school of Buddhist thought in English see
Waldron, Nagao, Wood, Jiang, and Hase 1984a, 1984b.



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

ideological world (Ticklish 374).4 Recent critiques of iekian politics have taken
much issue with its excessive irrationalism and its falling back on outdated
European values.5 Among such critiques, I will be concerned with a few directed
specifically at ieks reading of the ethical act as exemplified by Antigone. This
reading, enlarging on elements already present in Lacans reading in the seventh
seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, is taken to be a paradigmatic case of the
excessiveness of ieks approach. The insistence on Antigones act of pure desire
is suspected either of privileging blind faith and therefore political absolutization, or
of passive conformism, taken up with a negative conception of the real and the
impossible which removes it from the domain of practice. Thus Russell Grigg
questions ieks reading of Antigones no-saying to Creon as the quintessential
moment of absolute freedom. Grigg argues that Antigones no-saying signifies only
a symptomatic position, a yes-saying of the hysteric woman to her fathers desire.
The high point of Sophocles play, on this account, should be located, rather, in the
protagonists lamentation about her destiny. Then, and only then, may Antigone be
said to be choosing to assume her destiny in full acceptance of the consequences of
her act. This choice transforms what up to then has been a symptomatic position,
determined not by ethical resistance but by a desire to obey more absolute laws, into
something else. This something else is, however, not some spectacular intimation of
revolutionary possibilities or political disruptions, but a calmer kind of ethical
awareness of ones individual being. In Griggs words, Antigone attains a new
relationship to her womanhood (Absolute 191).
This is surely a useful reminder of the realities of the text, confirmed by
Lacans repeated references to beauty and splendor in his discussion of the play in
the seventh seminar. It is true that for Lacan Antigones splendor is one that is
unbearable because of a going beyond the limits of the human (Lacan Ethics
247, 263), but one may still say that if there is absolute freedom in Antigones act,
as affirmed by iek, it is too absolute, removed as it is from the human and
therefore uselessly absolute if not downright symptomatic. Instead of providing
access to a reservoir of disruptive revolutionary energies, as iek insists it will,

There have been subtle turns and shifts on the many occasions when iek has elaborated on
the idea of the ethical act and its political or other variants. We cannot go into details here; for a
useful summary, see Butler 66-94.
Subordination, exclusivity, hierarchy and violence are given as some of these values in
Robinson and Tomay 105. Among other things, iek is taken to task for favoring a glorification
of conflict, antagonism, terror and a militaristic logic of carving the field into good and bad sides,
as a good in itself (96). Another typical characterization states that iek repeats the terms of
the postmodern couplet of cynical distance and irrational fundamentalism (Boucher 44).

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

Antigones act of suicidal opposition to Creon is too pathological to serve any

practical purpose.
What matters ethically, to follow Griggs argument, is Antigones assumption
of her destiny. That destiny might have as its source something removed from the
human, but since this something is knowable to us only when it has been
determined in a particular way (as inhuman for example), it cannot serve the
revolutionary purpose iek is claiming for it. In short, Antigones act may still
pertain to freedom in some way, but iek is forcing ethical clarity and political
necessity on it, for such acts are free on condition that their freedom is determined
by some non-gratuitous causes and therefore not absolute: the act is free or
gratuitous in relation to a particular form, or determination, of the Other. It will be
free from its strictures, gratuitous from its point of view, criminal in its eyes, and
perhaps unaccountable and unpredictable within its framework (Grigg, Absolute 193).
It should be noted that iek is not unaware of the need to mitigate the too
pure desire for the absolute. In fact, he exposes himself to polemical fire from
many directions precisely by insisting, in The Puppet and the Dwarf and elsewhere,
that the theological absolutism of Christianity is only superficially absolute,
propped by a perverse core which reflects and connects the absoluteness of the
beyond back to the secular world. This perversity is manifested above all in the
principle of a violent passion to introduce a Difference, a gap in the order of being,
to privilege and elevate some object at the expense of others (iek, Puppet 33).
This insistence on differentiality is based, again, on the idea of the Lacanian act,
here explained as the opposite of the Buddhist mystical suspension of ties which
bind us to ordinary reality. For iek, this mystical suspension of ties is the
correct target of the accusations of passive conformism which have been mistakenly
directed at him. The Lacanian act, iek would say, does not pursue nirvana but
insists on disturbing fantasy in the real world: it is the very gesture by means of
which the Void is disturbed, and Difference (and, with it, false appearance and
suffering) emerges in the world (22).6 If, as Grigg points out, the freedom of the
act cannot escape determination by a merely different form of the Other, then the
reply of The Puppet and the Dwarf seems to be: precisely, but not just another

Here iek speaks of the bodhisattvas compassionate return to the world after attaining
nirvana as closer to the Lacanian act (22). I would certainly take issue with ieks flattened
understanding of Buddhism; he is working on the wrong level, treating Buddhism as a school of
thought and the bodhisattva as a deviant cadre, whereas real Buddhism exists on a different terrain
where there are indeed many ways to privilege and elevate different aspects of the fundamental
doctrine with no less passion and violence than iek shows for Christianity.



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

Other but one in which its central grounding in lack, embodied in the perverse
object, is made much more visible.
Nor is this perverse reading of the act entirely new. In Enjoy Your
Symptom!, the main reference of Griggs discussion, the act receives the usual
characterizations, but also something already pointing in the direction of perversity.
The act is said to be positioned on the zero point, the point of symbolic suicide
at which, indeed, ties to the normal world are cut off and the subject is excluded
from the intersubjective circuit of the Other to actualize a state of loss of loss or
renunciation of renunciation (iek, Enjoy 43 f). At the same time, iek does
define this zero point as a liminal state from which one returns: the zero point is not
a point of terminal suicide but a point one passes (almost as in a rite of passage)
before taking up a new beginning, a new social link (45). That is why one
accomplishes an activity, but undergoes an act, the latter being that which
involves a kind of temporary eclipse, aphanisis, of the subject (44). In other
words, while the act is mainly explicated as a gesture of withdrawal, iek has
never lost sight of its openness to a perverse turn, a fall back into the world of the
symbolic Other.
It does seem that ieks reading in The Puppet and the Dwarf moves further
away from withdrawal, but we need to bear in mind that perversity (in formal terms
thorough turning) still implies an about-turn, a turn from outside in, without
which the Void cannot be disturbed and the production of difference cannot
properly begin. In other words, although the zero point is a point of the vanishing
mediator, it is the passage through this point that makes all the difference. And this
zero point is still a point of freedom: the act is grounded in the abyss of a free
decision (iek, Puppet 21). 7 This is another case of the paradoxically
systematic: precisely when one has passed through the abyss of the absolutely free
is one in a better position to enter the pathological world without being blindly
subjected to the pathology of the systematic. The paradox lies in the fact that here,
too, ineffability and sharability cannot simply be excluded from each other: the
unspeakable is indispensable in that it has to become the beginning of (reductive)
transformations which would serve to renew the connections between the abyssal
Void and the more humanized world of Difference.
Here ieks position can be read as an implicit response to Walter Benjamins sketchy
elaborations on divine violence (1996), which Werner Hamacher explicates through the idea of
the imperformative or afformative political event, which, being afformative rather than
performative, takes place in an abyssal formlessness not unlike the zero point of the Lacanian
act; see esp. Hamacher 115, 128fn12.

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

Now we can return to the case of Antigone. The fact that Antigone goes
beyond the limits of the human also means that her form of determination by the
Other cannot be indistinct from any other form: the experience of having been
beyond the limits provides a cognitive edge which is nevertheless not abstract but
embodied in memory, capable of interacting with elements of the symbolic or
phantasmic networks of the everyday world. Actions (activity) are
accomplished with or without undergoing the act, and, to be true to ieks account,
it is this undergoing which subjects the ideological ego to real determinations,
opening up the possibility of a radical reordering of ones world: the act in its
traumatic tuche is that which divides the subject who can never subjectivize it,
assume it as his own, posit himself as its author-agent . . . (Ticklish 374).8 Thus
the frequent complaint that Antigone leaves one Other for another Other, opposes
one law (Creon, power, the community) but succumbs to another (Oedipus, At,
family) ignores the mediating passage through the act and risks a flattening of
triangulation into the simple dichotomy between the absolute and the relative.
When one begins with the acknowledgement of human finitude, freedom is in
principle out of the reach of human knowledge (ineffable), but the same
acknowledgement dictates that this gap cannot be universalized into a knowable
principle of the aporetic either. This systematic paradoxicality is the basis on
which we can say that the freedom of the Lacanian act is necessarily limited
because accompanied by a forced choice not unlike the choice between freedom
and death as expounded by Lacan in the eleventh seminar, The Four Fundamental
Concepts of Psychoanalysis: one has to choose the knowable world in order to
maintain some form of access to the unknowable, because one cannot choose the
reason for living without losing it at the same time (Zupani 231). In iek this
forced choice seems to be absolutized into a sphere of free decision, but,
following Griggs argument, the loss of loss cannot really lose all since this loss,
being of that loss and determined by it, cannot but gain some remainder of that loss,
hence the necessary perversity of turning this absolute freedom into something
else. In this sense, Griggs criticism is to the point but not enough. For iek, this
necessary determination by the Other belongs to the general structure of subjectivity
and is no longer an issue in the case of Antigone. What is peculiar in Antigone,
rather, is her fundamentally incommunicable experience, the experience of having
crossed the limits and being unable to return to the world except through textual

Zupani also compares this passive undergoing of encounters with the impossible of the
real to the contingent nature of the event which, as Alain Badiou stresses, happens to us (235).



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

Zupani explains the difference between desire and the drive by pointing out
that desire sustains itself in the impossibility of satisfaction while the drive always
solves such impossibility by finding satisfaction elsewhere (242). This blind
satisfaction explains how the loss of loss is connected back to its uninflected half:
desire dwells on the gap between the possible and the impossible, seeking and
finding everything not it; the drive, on the other hand, happens to us and
transforms the impossibility of desire into an elsewhere. In the consumption of
food, for example, in spite of the fact that the object we consume will never be it,
some part of it is produced in the very act of consumption (243). It is still
located elsewhere, but a part now enters the picture and provides a dependency
linking everyday practice to the jouissance of the mouth. The experience of the
drive, however, is beyond the analysis and is approachable only at the level of
the analyst (Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts 273 f), which means that the
analyst, as one who has undergone the experience of the drive and has taken up a
position of authority regarding that experience, can no longer abide in pure desire
but has to return to the partial and the dependent; hence Lacans much quoted
statement: The desire of the analyst is not a pure desire (276).9
For Zupani, the point here is not that desire is at some point replaced by
the drive as Lacans main concern: even if the drive is in some way the goal of
the analytic process, one cannot choose it directly, instead of desire and its logic.
In order to arrive at the drive, one must pass through desire and insist on it until the
very end (239). The analyst, facing the same dilemma as the Buddha in having to
communicate something whose nature blocks its very communicability, can only
resort to partial or reduced forms,. Such forms do not exist elsewhere: they exist
precisely within the limits of the law. The key, therefore, is not to communicate in
the usual sense of transporting messages, but (for the analysand) to retrace the paths
of desire without which the remainders of the impossible hidden within the possible
cannot emerge.10

Significantly, this impure desire, a desire to obtain absolute difference, intervenes where
there may be the signification of a limitless love (Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts 276):
here Lacan speaks not of a limitless love but of its reduction into a signification. Limitless
love lives only outside the limits of the law (276), but the analyst works within such limits,
presumably through the signification of such love.
The analysts role is, therefore, not that of the educator or advisor but that of an observer
who maintains only the general framework of this retracing of the paths, who steps in only
when the analysands desire is in danger of becoming lost. Otherwise it is the subject [the
analysand] that does the work. The analysts desire is, therefore, to leave the way open to the
subjects own desire (Grigg, Signifier 113).

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At as Cognitive Drive
In terms of practical effectivity, such patient, almost ontogenetic, working
through of the impossible is a serious threat to social and political agency, but the
stakes of the psychoanalytic position lie precisely in the posited need to return to
the place where one can question, from the point of the absolutely free, the reason
for living before taking up other reasons as if we were free agents. Lacan indicates
as much when he uses the word At to describe the necessary subjection of the
subject to something that began to be articulated before him in previous
generations; this is an At which does not always reach the tragic level of
Antigones At but is always closely related to misfortune (Lacan, Ethics 300).
Freedom cannot but remain partial because the object of freedom, that which
freedom breaks free from, lies both inside and outside of the physical individual. In
whatever form, it is by definition formed before the individual is born and so may
always be taken to be just another, numerically countable, form of the Other, but at
the same time, Antigones At is also an object that in some sense is proper to the
individual by constituting a singular lineage of previous generations that belongs
to no one else.
As the context of the Oedipus myth shows, this At is paradoxical in that it is
a blind drive placed beyond the limits of cognitive access, but at the same time a
cognitive drive, a drive to solve an enigma, to know the truth (272). This
cognitive dimension constitutes a particular kind of effectivity that is open to the
misfortune of being, complete with an unknowability beyond the singularity of
contingent experience enclosed within the protagonists physical body. Such
effectivity, however, is also the source of a limitless power the mere remainders of
which, knowable through a kind of strange relation between the hero and the
community, can be transmitted in the fully symbolic sphere of public knowledge
(Shepherdson, Of Love 71).
My pointing to the cognitive as an important dimension is based on the belief
that the cognitive, the knowing of (or in) the body which connects to the thinking
beyond the confines of the individual, is the place where the remainders of the
impossible emerge through the drive. While cognition has long been associated with
attempts to explain mental phenomena in terms of disembodied algorithmic
processes, an alternative model is provided by research on embodied cognition,
cognition as at least partially determined by the body of the organism (Shapiro 168;
see also Varela et al.). The peculiarly psychoanalytic take on cognition consists not
only in its concern with an unconscious that engenders psychic life and virtually



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makes subject and cognition possible (Schleifer et al. 156) but in its insistence on
the continuing relevance of processes inseparably connected to the realm of bodily
impulses, residual memories, and phantasmic constructions. iek invokes Hegels
characterization of the night of the world to explain this realm of inchoate forms:
psychoanalytic experience is determined by the necessity of subjectivity to emerge
out of this realm and therefore to be built upon the traces of the traumatic passage
from this night of the world into our daily universe of logos (iek, Cartesian 259).
Thus, the paradoxical point to make here is that the cognitive pertains to the
body, the mind, and the beyond. This has some bearing on the issues of the ethical
act and the political. When Stavrakakis denies Antigones usefulness as a model of
political effectivity (173 f), he is assuming an absolute distinction between body
and mind, disparaging the latter as ineffective in the face of real oppression.11 I
have mentioned Griggs argument that the significance of Antigones act lies in the
achieving of a new relationship to her womanhood which retroactively transforms
her hysterics position into what seems to be one of the ethical choice. This
transformation, however, may also be taken, in Stavrakakis terms, as a distancing
from concrete resistance, a dwindling of effectivity into intrapsychic abstraction
(self-relating in the vicinities of a womanhood behind or above the woman). Indeed,
for Antigone as for other Sophoclean tragic protagonists, there is no possibility of
change in a situation where everything is there from the beginning (Stavrakakis
173; Lacan, Ethics 271). Hence Stavrakakis contention that since Antigone desires
death and is positioned as already dead, as indeed stressed in Lacans reading, her
pure desire amounts to an inability to act, a gesture of complicity with the powers
that be. On this reading, Antigones act is a lure to death, something that, being
sustained by the structures of fantasy, has to be traversed for there to be real
transgression of the law, and this is precisely what Lacan did in a later seminar in
correction of his earlier reading (Stavrakakis 175 f).
What is involved here is not just the possibility or feasibility of deOedipalizing the subject in the name of preserving political effectivity. The issue is
already one of eliminating the cognitive dimension of psychoanalysis. Antigones
overcoming of her symptomatic position is in the most simple terms an act of
knowing: she knows what she is condemned to, that is, to take part, so to speak, in
a game whose outcome is known in advance (Lacan, Ethics 280). But there is a
further sense in which what is known presupposes (and is presupposed by) what
Similarly, the cognitive orientation of psychoanalysis is sometimes associated with a
psychocentrism which distances itself from materiality and prevents Lacan from giving
technology its due place (Hansen 171).

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

remains to be known or experienced, as is indicated in Lacan almost imperceptible

shift in speaking of knowing the outcome as if it were continuous with taking part
in the working out of this known outcome. To know more than the outcome of a
game, one must first experience the mechanical working out of its causal
programming. In the case of Antigone, however, we may ask further whether her
knowing can be separated from the ethical significance of her condemnation and
her taking part in the sense of knowingly participating in the actualization of her
destiny. This is the point of contention between iek and Grigg: one locates ethics
in the aphanisis or fading of the subject; the other looks for meaning in the
conscious though psychically significant act of coming to terms with ones destiny.
But these positions may not be as incompatible as at first appears. If the act, for
iek, must end in the taking up of new beginnings, then aphanisis is
significant precisely in effecting a passage into possible actions in which the
cognitive is necessarily expressed as the remainders of a greater cognitive drive.
Antigone, as a character textually transmitted to us, knows not just how the game
would work out in accordance with the rules. She knows, in a quite different sense,
the fact of her being condemned and, furthermore, of the fact of her taking part as
well. In this kind of deeper knowing, there is a more properly (purely) cognitive
acceptance of something necessarily reduced in terms of the scale of knowledge,
something coming from the night of the world, something impossible,
something known but not clearly known.
By going beyond the symbolically protected world, Antigone reverses the
traumatic passage and obtains (partially transmits to us) a glimpse of the real
beyond of the everyday world. Such knowledge has to be transmitted as
disembodied knowledge, but cannot but pertain to something in the body, inscribed
not only in the flesh and blood of transmitted family At but in the materiality of
human intention and agency which has to be worked out in situated contexts but
also demands to become intelligible through the cognitive passage to and from the
beyond of the known. If this cognitive grounding of Antigones act is denied
political effectivity, then we are not very far from the father but are unexpectedly
returned to the original Oedipal situation: to know is to die, at least to die as a
political being.
For Lacan, the gap between knowing and taking part, inevitably coinciding
with the knowing of this taking part, is precisely the gap defined as the relation
of the subject to the Other (Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts 206). In
confirmation of ieks position, political effectivity here has to be understood in



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

terms of the more general problematic of the fading of the subject. Here is Lacans
The signifier, producing itself in the field of the Other, makes
manifest the subject of its signification. But it functions as a signifier
only to reduce the subject in question to being no more than a
signifier, to petrify the subject in the same movement in which it calls
the subject to function, to speak, as subject. There, strictly speaking,
is the temporal pulsation in which is established that which is the
characteristic of the departure of the unconscious as suchthe
closing. (207)
Whenever a subject merely knows, or is known in advance, there is no taking
part, or there is taking part only on condition that the subject first disappears,
replaced by a petrified double called up by the signifier. The closing of the
unconscious, however, implies that the fading is never complete, that the closing
must already be opening and closing (Shepherdson, Lacan 121). In the
temporal pulsation constituted by this movement, the subject of the unconscious
reemerges in flashes, to disappear again with the closing that is bound to ensue.
Cognitively speaking, such flashes may enable the conscious subject to make
momentary approaches to a position from which the void behind this movement of
disappearances becomes palpable between closings, reducing the distance, however
briefly, between the field of the Other (where the conscious subject itself is located)
and that of the subject of the unconscious. When this happens, it is not unreasonable
to speak of the subject as taking part in something beyond the usual ordering of
the symbolic.
It is not by accident that Lacan describes both Antigones act and the way
psychoanalytic discourse approaches truth as a passage or a leap to the limit.
Antigone does not only find herself at the place of a limit (Ethics 248), but by being
at that place, goes beyond the limits of the human: she goes toward At and
beyond the limit of At (263, 277). Similarly, when Lacan discusses the concept
of the concept, what is invoked is a leap to the limit: Indeed, if the concept is
modeled on an approach to the reality that the concept has been created to
apprehend, it is only by a leap, a passage to the limit, that it manages to realize
itself (Four Fundamental Concepts 19). For Antigone, going toward is already
going beyond, since for a cognitive move, transgression is also realization:
Antigone enacts a moment of transgression or of realization of her At (Ethics

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

281). One finds oneself at a place of the limit, which thereby is transgressed as
limit, but one realizes ones transgression by having a point of view at that place to
approach ones life (280). Similarly, the concept realizes itself not by becoming
reality but by taking up (conceptually) a position in reality as its own limit. This is
explained by the paradoxical turn in the psychoanalytic conception of cause: Cause
is to be distinguished from that which is determinate in a chain, in other words the
law. . . . Whenever we speak of cause . . . there is always something anticonceptual, something indefinite (Four Fundamental Concepts 22). When one has
a point of view, one does not have to follow chains of mechanical causality but can
leap over the indefinite to realize an approximation of the true. In Antigones
case, this is described as an anamorphic image of passion emerging out of
infinitesimal images against a background of decomposed and disgusting forms
(Ethics 272 f). In the case of the concept of the concept, infinitesimal calculus is
invoked to indicate a leap from uncertainly to certainty.
From this point of view, the question of political effectivity, which is part of a
more general question of causality and the gap between nature and culture (274),
cannot be answered in any simple way. A cognitive move may seem to remain
disembodied, lacking the mechanical effectivity of the physical world, unable to
engage with something anti-conceptual, manifested here as something
indefinite. On the other hand, one must recognize the principle that there is cause
only in something that doesnt work (Four Fundamental Concepts 22). Cause, on
this account, is worthy of its name only when it implies a leap into the impossible,
reaching beyond the indefinite, making what doesnt work work. Such effectivity
should not be ignored in any account of political agency.

Not One Less: The (Dis)Obedient Daughter

For psychoanalysis, the momentary positioning of the subject at the limit
expresses the fundamental postulate that human experience cannot exceed the
physical closure of the neurophysiological system of the body. In order to respond
to exigencies of the causality of the world, the subject has to participate in symbolic
systems, setting up a cognitive layer of being to provide reference points for its
actions. The conception of a need for the Lacanian act implies that the blind
working of the symbolic may not always serve the subject well, that there are times
when it doesnt work and mediation is required. In the more general context,
however, the issue becomes one of proper limits: one has to develop ways to
prevent the necessary mediation from becoming inflexible, insensitive or otherwise



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

detrimental to life. Since mediation takes place in the form of symbolic delegation,
the maintenance of cognitive access naturally becomes the main concern. It is not
that there is any lack of priority attributed to the materiality of the signifier and of
the world, but as I have tried to show above, within the parameters of an ethics, the
Lacanian act is fundamentally a cognitive act.
A similar approach can be found in Yogcra thought. In this tradition of
Buddhist philosophy, prominence is given to a mind only position predicated on
the understanding that memory is constituted by the cumulative store of mental
traces left behind by all instances of exposure to the use of symbolic constructions.
Since such constructions are considered as the cause of suffering, Yogcra
proposes to depart from the domination of memory, to be positioned within a state
of awareness [satori], allowing the world of the real to appear, uncontaminated by
common-sense knowledge and the like (Izumi 98). In the context of Buddhist
thought, of course, political effectivity is usually not a concern, but soteriological
authority is. It becomes important to deal with the tension between insight as pure
cognition and as conceptually structured knowledge (Ram-Prasad 160). It would
be too hasty to compare this with the Lacanian act, but at least it is clear that in
Yogcra, too, the solution lies in maintaining a radical gap between the two
What remains purethe attitude of desirelessness, based on
knowledge of things as they areis what is required for authoritative
teaching, while what has to become impure for such teaching to be
possiblethe phenomenological undergoing of things as they are in
experiencedoes not vitiate that necessary purity. (160)12
Instead of the disturbance of the Void projected by the Lacanian act, Buddhism
finds pure desirelessness at the threshold of the beyond. More interesting, however,
is the fact that some structural points we have been looking at are repeated here: the
closing of the purity that cannot be vitiated, the pulsation of the need to become
impure, the underlying transmission of the remainder of the real signified by the
subtle movement from things as they are to things as they are in experience.
Without delving into the complexities of differentiating or comparing the two

Admittedly Ram-Prasads commentary is predicated on the synthetic YogcraMadhyamaka school, a late development which attempts to integrate Yogcra thought into the
older Madhyamaka tradition. The distinction, however, makes no difference here since we are
concerned only with elements observed in Yogcra thought as a whole.

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

different takes on a cognitive approach to reality, I will turn my attention to the

textualities of a film which will show how a consideration of the Yogcra position
may point to a few more ways to add to our discussion of political agency and the
cognitive leap.
In Zhang Yimous film, Not One Less (1999), the comedy always consists in
producing something out of nothing, as if the whole story is about how the cause
becomes possible. The initial situation establishes this insistent optimism: we see a
thirteen-year-old girl is hired (that is, promised that she will be paid) as a substitute
teacher because Gao, the only teacher in the village has to leave to see his dying
mother. This situation doesnt work because Minzhi, the thirteen-year-old
protagonist, does not know how to teach or how to manage her class. Necessity,
however, soon make things work to a degree, as it usually does in the kind of
extreme poverty represented in the story. Gao leaves after commanding Minzhi that
not anyone in the class should drop out during his absence. When one of the
students leaves to work as child laborer in the city, Minzhi decides that she must
honor Gaos will (make it work) by looking for the missing student. Her cause
soon develops into a leap into the possible: to raise money for her trip to the city,
the class forces the manager of a brick factory to pay them, not because they moved
his bricks without being asked, but, as the manager emphatically pronounces, out
of charitable intentions. Eventually Minzhi manages to refind her missing student
after a testing of the limits of normal behavior by refusing (because she is without
any means) to follow routine procedures and sleeping outside the TV station,
eventually attracting the station directors attention. This transgression, while it
lasts, reveals a certain breakdown in causality, forcing into open view the obscene
fact that the system doesnt work. The director is apparently aware of the
proximity of the real and possible consequences, and helps out by broadcasting
Minzhis story in a talk show. Charity again shows its face. When Minzhi and the
boy return to the village, they bring with them abundant supplies donated by wellintentioned city dwellers who have seen the show.
Im proposing to read Not One Less not just because there is a certain
resemblance between Antigone, the self-willed victim (Lacan, Ethics 247) and
Minzhi, the girl who would stop at nothing. The fact that both Antigone and Minzhi
are inhabitants of the limit zone, one dead in life, the other born too early into the
teachers position, are only one of the ways the two can be linked together. Here I
would like to dwell on the different but complementary ways these two versions of
the womanly will are positioned in networks of causality. If Antigones will pertains
to the liminal zone of the drive, or to a pure desire waiting, in the patient



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

narcissism of the Lost Cause (Zupani 238ff), for an eventual leap into drive,
then Minzhi pertains to the unconscious, or its remainder in reality, weakly
signifying the real but not it because of the lack of any ethical awareness. If
Antigone inhabits the zone of the leap, then Minzhi takes up the leap at a distance,
by virtualizing it, scaling it down, using it in the tactical maneuvers of everyday
causality without cognitively becoming aware of the ethical consequences. Hers is
the leap in reduced form, reduced in the sense of being cognitively incomplete.13
Thus, in terms of cognitive performativity, Minzhi seems nowhere close to the
limits of the human. The comic ending, in fact, reveals considerable resonances
between Minzhi and society as a whole: On the one hand, we have a teacher who is
forced into her duties without adequate training; on the other hand, we see the larger
social system failing to eliminate poverty or hide the limits of its effectivity, but
working nevertheless, gratuitously, without deserving to do so. In both cases, there
is something anti-conceptual: the individual engages in leaps of will, makes do
with circumstantial necessity; the social system produces charitable acts, gets away
with ideological interpellation. But these acts or conditions take place only in
reduced form, since for both the individual and the community, the option of
leaping to the limit seems very much in the air and far from truly transgressive. The
fact that they are necessary, probable and possibly effective, is merely a sign that
social control, if not the law of the father, is weak.
It is also obvious that we should not attach too much significance to the
insistence of the film on reclaiming the one less. The absence of cognitive agency
makes Minzhi mindless, but does not locate her at the limits of consciousness or
position her for the leap of the Lacanian act: the one less does not constitute a
Lacanian cause since the way it is reclaimed seems to violate the Lacanian principle
that the cause of the unconscious must be a lost cause, to be won only by
sustaining its status as lost, at the level of the unconscious (Lacan Four
Fundamental Concepts 128). This is not simply an issue of how to read or interpret
the film, either. Indeed the film is a political event, a gesture at the national
construction of modernity associated with Project Hope, a foundation created by the
Chinese government to solicit contributions to help children from poor families
attend school. During the making of Not One Less, Zhang Yimou worked closely
with this foundation (Xi, Johnson, Xu 331), and the film has been used as
propaganda for its cause on innumerable fund-raising events.


iek, of course, would assert that partial/incomplete forms like this fail to do justice to
the ulitmate horizon of the Lacaniana Real (iek and Daly 165).

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

On the other hand, as some critics have suggested, there seems to be a strange
duality in which hiding and revealing go hand in hand. The more blatant the
conformism is, the more reality seems to come to the surface. Thus, the film is both
an accomplice of the dominant ideology and an indication of the possibility of
achieving a radically political subjectivity (Xu 331 f); money in the film is both
the dehumanizing universal measure of value and something that is allowed to
transgress its commercial meaning to embody humanistic values (Cui 123). Such
duality is presented in a narrative form of pulsation: a phase of revelation (failure
of the system) followed by one of concealment (mending of the system by acts of
good will). The concealment, however, cannot cancel the revelation, but can only
supplement it, producing an exemplary turn of ironic reversal: the conformist
affirmation of the benevolent post-Maoist state power becomes a real challenge to
its paternalism, an implicit demand to the father who is not even sufficiently present
to admit to its impotence, to remedy the disaster he left behind.14
In fact, what the whole story shows is that when the lost cause is won,
something is always lost again: there can be not one less only when there are
many more, the exceptional limit disappears in the sheer number of the everyday.
Even the success of the film and its continued usefulness as propaganda does not
prevent its literal cause from becoming lost to the complexity of changing times. A
few years after the film was released, the school it used as a model in its pseudodocumentary setup had become even smaller, numbering one teacher (who had
played Gao in the film himself) and six students (see Zhang et. al). Interestingly,
dropouts were not the only reason for declining enrollment; many had left to go to
better, more expensive places.
But the film seems to be aware of its own fate, which explains the need to
maintain a sense of the imaginary. At the end of the story, the students rejoice in
their free supply of fresh chalk, the lack of which has oppressed them so much
before. Each child is asked to write down a Chinese character on the blackboard,
signifying they, too, are no longer lost to the system, but are refound and added to
the infinite number of future masters of the nation undergoing educational
interpellation everywhere. They win a promised future (as Minzhi receives a
promise of her wages in the film and eventually, in real life, a chance to study

This is certainly a variation of the strategy of overfulfilment (Breger 86), a familiar

iekian topos of the transgressive potential of the masochist: When a subject stages a
masochistic scenario and says I am a priori guilty, and therefore I want to be punished!, it is the
law that, in effect, reveals its impotence and frustration, since its universalistic foundations are
exposed as merely functional to the superego command(Enjoy!) (Vighi and Feldner 119). The
situation is also described by Gilles Deleuze (88).



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

abroad in 2006), but they lose the beauty and singularity they had when they were
beyond the limits of determined citizenship. The touching story of how
abandoned people formed their image of life out of the anamorphic fragments of an
inoperative community is turned, as if by inexorable necessity, into a comedy of
the state.

Yogcra and Anamorphic Reduction

Clearly, then, Minzhi is not a failed version of Antigone. There is an opening
and a closing, a momentary revelation of the limits of bearable privation and then
an imaginary solution which neutralizes the revealed reality with a happy ending.
This is at least a reduced form of pulsation. Xu Gang explains the real social
conditions revealed by the film in Lacanian terms: they are the invisible stain, the
objet a, of Chinas socialist utopia, now frozen by the cinematic apparatus into
visibility (Xu 335). My reading, however, questions the aptness of identifying the
lost (and reclaimed) cause of Not One Less in this way with the Lacanian cause,
because in the closure of the narrative, this stain has in fact been reclaimed by
idealization, hidden again in the visibility of cognitive abstractness, in a sense
betraying the Lacanian cause which, by definition, cannot be sustained in the
terminal (frozen) state of being won (or lost). This freezing of the beyond is
precisely what critics see as a grave danger in ieks appeals to the absolute.
On the other hand, the very uncertainty of this reclaiming does reveal that
there are, indeed, remainders of jouissance in the projected causality, intimations of
a pulsating blindness. I will introduce two Yogcra principles to explain such
unfamiliar variations of the Lacanian passage to the impossible. To evoke Lacanian
associations, I refer to them as the principle of the anamorphic turn and the
principle of reflexive anamorphosis. Admittedly, these are only two ways to reduce
and oversimplify a school of thought and cannot hope to do the least justice to the
richness and diversity of such a long-standing tradition, but they must suffice here.
In Yogcra, reality can only be the reality of cognition. This provides freer
room for conceiving performative agency in reality. Thus, taking over the older
Mdhyamika model of two truths, (samvrti or the conventional and paramartha or
the absolute), early Yogcrins elaborated a view of reality as three natures,
which came to be a staple element of all later variations: the parikalpita (the
constructed), the paratantra (the interdependent), and the parinispanna (the

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

fulfilled).15 In crude terms, a distinction between the imaginary (with attendant

symbolic constructions) and the real is elaborated into a trio of one imaginary and
two reals, the interdependent being descriptive of causal reality (the mind as a
causal machine), and the fulfilled being a reference to the beyond of such reality. It
is notable here that the way one approaches this beyond is not so much through a
leap, a passage through an arcade in the wall, as through an about-turn from a
point of view (based within the interdependent) directed to the constructed to one
directed to the fulfilled.16
Thus the three natures can actually be grouped into two: the constructeddependent (understanding the dependent as if it is constructed), and the dependentfulfilled (understanding the dependent from the standpoint of the realized), with the
interdependent serving as a pivotal term connecting and determining the other two
natures. 17 One takes a deluded view of the interdependent and one sees the
constructed; one turns around to take an awakened view of the interdependent and
one sees the fulfilled. The fulfilled, therefore, does not fulfill anything but simply
allows the constructed nature of objective psychic reality to emerge; in the words of
Vasubandhus Trimik-krik, the fulfilled is neither exactly different nor nondifferent from the interdependent (Anacker 188). Furthermore, the Tri-SvabhvaNidea gives a full elaboration of how each of the three natures is in principle nondifferent from any other, differing only in how each arises, is entered, or is dealt
with in the subjective turn from ignorance to true knowledge (Anacker 291-96). The
three natures are like anamorphic variations of the same reality (compared, for
example, to the semblance of an elephant created by the magician, the way this
elephant is made to appear, and the non-being of this elephant): they are only one
world . . . known/experienced in three ways (Kaplan 69). Such circumstances
(traditionally described as an idealism) allow the ethical to coincide with the
Nature (suabhva) refers to the presence of consistent self-substance. For the continuity
between the Madhyamaka and the Yogcra, see Kud 217-21. For English translations of some
basic texts see Anacker. I follow Anacker in the translation of most Yogcra terms.
Nagao, however, does refer to this about-turn as a leap from the constructed to the
fulfilled, a jump from the imagined world to the consummated world, across an abyssal gap
(65, 66).
This is the standard reading in modern scholarship; see, e.g., Okano 199, ta 303. The
standard reference for linking the fulfilled to the interdependent is Verse 21 of Vasubandhus
Trimik-krik: The interdependent own-being [nature], on the other hand, is the discrimination
which arises from conditions, and the fulfilled is its state of being separated always from the
former, i.e., the state in which the interdependent is always separated from the constructed
(Anacker 188).



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

cognitive, much more so than in Lacanian theory. Since causality is conceived as

entirely mental, there seems to be no real need for a lions leap; a simple turn of
ones cognitive position by itself allows one to act ethically and capture or
reconfigure the anamorphosis.
A consideration of such cultural circumstances provides one way to explain
the difference between Minzhi and Antigone. In a world of weakened paternal
authority (in part because of the newly adopted, highly time-compressed form of
Chinese capitalism), the ethical leap can be seen to be dissolved into less forceful
(less tragic and less heroic) but more pervasive cognitive gestures, operating in
terms more like the Yogcra turn than the Lacanian leap. When Minzhi insists on
finding the boy, for example, she is taking up things as they are in her experience.
Since her experience is actually a lack of experience, however, a cognitive turn is
enacted, resulting in the breakdown of the existing anamorphic construction. Such
cognitive gestures can be half-hearted, even mindless, since they may represent
various stages in the progress of anamorphic transformations from ignorance
toward the fully aware. What eventually matters is whether a direction may emerge,
more or less in the way of an automaton, from the convergent patterns of
cumulative cognitive changes.
Yogcra does provide accounts of the breaks which may eventually occur out
of such performative growth: they lead to a conversion of base (raya-paravrtti)
which denotes the destruction of the storehouse consciousness (Hase 187). In the
Trimik-krik , this revolution at the basis is described as super-mundane
knowledge, a state in which all constructions are shed, all mental borders are
shattered, all past habit-energies redirected (Anacker 189, 190 n14). It is
noteworthy that even such destruction occurs only as a cognitive act undergone
by the individual (technically speaking within the practice of yoga meditation
historically initiated by Gautama Buddha himself). This is a form of radical
individualism without the mediation of symbolic organization or social hierarchy.
Here mediation takes place not in symbolic ordering but in the very interdependent
networks of psychic causality which, as the cognitive base supplementing
(quilting) the constructed and the fulfilled respectively to form a crosslinking
common ground of memory and subjectivity, may converge across individuals in
the automatic working out of objective determinations, without room for much
personal intervention.
When all is said, however, Minzhi does transgress certain social limits and
cannot be said to be simply like everyone else. Here we need a second principle
which would lead us back to something more like a Lacanian leap. In Trimik-

Liao / Politicizing Cognition

krik, the section of verses dealing with the three natures is immediately followed
by a section on the three absences of nature describing the three natures as
eventually without self-substance (Verses 23-25). This is a principle of reflexive
anamorphosis. The fulfilled, as explained above, is a state arrived at within
interdependent cognition and, furthermore, is dependent on the interdependent in its
very definition as a way to take up interdependent causality. Such dependence
implies that it is itself always in danger of becoming an anamorphic cognitive
construction. Thus the fulfilled has to be subjected to further anamorphic
deconstruction to reveal that there is no substance underneath. This is an implicit
recognition of objective reality beyond cognition, even though this reality cannot be
accessed directly and so is of no use for knowledge. This returns us to the ineffable
state of enlightenment: the mind stands at the limits of communication, having gone
through layers of anamorphosis to see the nothing beyond. Without such
destruction, one cannot envision any possibility of arriving at a revolution at the
Minzhi, of course, is far from having reached such an awakened state, but if
the Yogcra model has any explanatory efficacy, its account of the absolute real
cannot be simply subsumed by the non-communicable without remainder. The
return from the beyond in the Lacanian leap is not a mere discursive gesture, but
has to be borne out in every case of an ethical act if only in reduced form. A
perceived danger of ieks absolutism is his embracing of totality and the
universal. For example, he criticizes new social movements as single-issue
movements which lack the dimension of universalitythat is to say, they do not
relate to the social totality (Afterword 297). One way to defend this move is to
say that, in contrast to local sites of resistance playing into schemes of opposition
management enforced by established powers, the failure and missed opportunity of
Lenins act at least preserves the flicker of the utopian light in the spirit of a
Benjaminian weak messianism (Vighi and Feldner 127). Thus even outbursts of
racial violence may be considered proof, a contrario, of the possibility of the
authentic proletarian revolution, of a sort of unconscious awareness of the
presence of emancipatory chances (iek, Aferword 256). For such totalizing
conceptions of the ethical to be viable, what is needed is precisely a kind of formal
weakening or reduction, instanced by Walter Benjamins messianism, which, being
firmly rooted in the de-absolutized world, would prevent the collective objet a from
becoming frozen as revealed truth.
Similarly, the anamorphic cognitive acts of Yogcra do not simply and
conveniently end in the cessation of all constructions (nirvana as suicide). There



Concentric 35.2 (Sept. 2009): 147-174

must be consequences for, and therefore already dependence on, the practical world.
In Minzhis case, the unusual situation and the unusual performative acts do point to
an opening of the constructed social and political reality, forcing into view not only
possible variations in the anamorphic configuration of the world but the place of the
leap from which one cannot return without partaking of the revolutionary
possibilities inhering in a view of the void. The opening is immediately followed by
a closing, as if the constructed view is responding by imaginary acts of charity
automatically induced to restore the normal picture of the world. But we have to
assume that the brief pulsation of the real will have some effects in the
communication of converging social desire, a taste of communicable revolution at
the basis. The fact of its weakening or reduction into make-believe is positive in
terms of a kind of political effectivity which is diffused and psychically determined,
and therefore not easily managed in the usual schemes of political agency. Minzhi is
different from Antigone in the mindless acting out of cognitive possibilities, in the
delegation of agency to the interdependence of objective reality, to thoughts
without a thinker (Epstein 404 f). The principle of the underlying leap to the limit,
however, is the same.

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About the Author

Chaoyang Liao is currently a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and
Literature at National Taiwan University. He has done research in Buddhist thought, classical
Chinese fiction, critical theory, psychoanalysis, cinema studies, and translation studies. He
has also written on social and political issues as well as fiction and cinematic works from
[Received 27 Mar. 2009; accepted 26 June 2009; revised 4 Sept. 2009]